But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Trinity 6 – 2024

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11

Simon Peter, the fisherman from Capernaum, had been introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew. Andrew in turn had been directed to Jesus by John the Baptist, whose disciple he previously had been.

After Peter got acquainted with Jesus, he became what we might call a part-time disciple of the Lord. He spent time with him during his travels in Galilee, listening to him, and trying to come to a better understanding of who he was and of what he was doing. But Peter also continued to pursue his livelihood as a fisherman.

This process by which Peter was becoming better acquainted with Jesus had included the events that took place at the wedding in Cana. Peter was no doubt one of the disciples who was with Jesus at that wedding, and who had helped to drink up the original supply of wine. So, Peter would have been glad that Jesus was around on that occasion, so that he could miraculously replenish the supply of wine, for him and the other wedding guests.

Another event that had taken place during this time, was Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, who had been suffering with a fever. Peter would have been glad that Jesus was around for this miracle as well.

But in today’s Gospel from St Luke – which describes some things that took place not long after this healing – we see a different kind of reaction from Peter, and a change in Peter’s thinking about whether he really does want Jesus to be around, and to be a part of his life.

Peter defined his life as a Jewish fisherman. That’s what he was. Sometimes he attended weddings, and sometimes he had sick relatives, but those things did not define him.

Peter had welcomed the miracles of Jesus into those aspects of his life, which were on the periphery of his existence and not at the core. Peter was intrigued by Jesus’ ability to replenish wine or to heal a fever.

But now, in today’s text, Peter is no longer intrigued by Jesus, and he is no longer comfortable with having him around. In the events that today’s Gospel recounts, Jesus is not staying at the periphery of Peter’s life.

He is inserting himself into the essence of who Peter is as a fisherman, as he brings about a miraculous catch of fish. For Peter, that is too close, and too threatening.

When Jesus does get this close, and seems to be probing him more deeply, Peter then also starts to think about those things in his life – and in his heart – that he would rather hide from Jesus.

As a Jewish fisherman, Peter knows that the God of his people is a holy and righteous God, who is angered by human sin and wickedness. The biblical stories of the flood of Noah and of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, with which Peter would have been very familiar, are just a couple examples from history that show how God may indeed react to human rebellion and disobedience, when he finds it.

And so, to the extent that Jesus in some way represents God, then to that extent Peter is now beginning to fear what might happen to him if Jesus stays around.

Jesus is no longer seen only as a source of blessing, who can solve relatively unimportant problems such as wine running out or an old woman having a fever. Now Jesus is seen as a potential source of punishment, and of divine disapproval, on account of the many sins that Peter knows are in his life and in his heart – sins of which his conscience is reminding him.

Therefore, in response to today’s miracle from Jesus, which caused a large number of fish to fill up Peter’s net, Peter – in fearful humility – cried out:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

When Jesus had turned water into wine, Peter did not want Jesus to depart. And Jesus did not depart. When Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, Peter did not want Jesus to depart then, either. And Jesus did not depart.

But when Peter – at Jesus’ word – let down his nets into the water; and when those nets became filled with such a large number of fish that they began to break, Peter changed his mind about the relationship that was developing between him and Jesus. Now he did want Jesus to depart.

But Jesus did not depart. And from Peter’s perspective, things then got even worse!

Instead of departing, Jesus got even closer to Peter; that is, he became more intense in the claims he was making on Peter, and in the plans that he was making for Peter. We are told that Jesus said to him:

“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”

When Jesus, with his supernatural power, was somewhat close – but not too close – Peter was glad to have him around. He was glad to have more wine to drink at the wedding, and he was glad to have a well and healthy mother-in-law.

When Jesus was functioning as the giver of earthly gifts which improved the quality and happiness of Peter’s life in this world, Jesus was welcome. And for many today – us included – Jesus is likewise welcome, when he comes to give us daily bread, to heal our physical diseases, and to bestow upon us other material blessings.

We don’t mind it when Jesus is close enough to us, to be able to do these kinds of things for us, according to the needs of our bodily life. And when that is all he is doing – or seems to be doing – he is still at a safe distance from our heart and conscience: not challenging us or threatening us.

But what happens when Jesus wants more than that with you, and from you? What happens when he wants to get much closer, and to be more intense not only in pressing you to admit your flaws and failures, but also in the claims that he is making on you, and in the plans that he is making for you?

Your initial reaction probably would be the same as Peter’s reaction, when you become more aware of your sinfulness – in contrast to God’s holiness and righteousness, as reflected in the teaching and character of Jesus. And when Jesus gets really close, and instead of just bestowing a few external blessings on your life, seems to want to take over your life: that will scare you, just as it scared Peter.

We talk a lot about the forgiveness of sins in this church, as we should. But before you can appreciate Jesus getting really close to you, to be the forgiver of your sins, you need to face up to the fact that you are sinful, and that you have displeased God through your bad decisions, your bad attitudes, and your bad actions.

And you need to be honest about the fact that you are currently displeasing God, as you are currently sinning against God and your neighbor in thought, word, and deed. You need to be like Peter, who knew that in himself he was not worthy to be in Christ’s presence.

That kind of honesty will make you uncomfortable. And it should make you uncomfortable. That kind of honesty will make you afraid. And it should make you afraid.

This is what God’s law does, when it shows you what God expects of you: and, when it makes you contrite over the fact that what God has expected is not what God has seen. The words of Psalm 38 then become your words:

“O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure! For Your arrows pierce me deeply, and Your hand presses me down. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness.”

These words represent the complex emotions and the tangled thoughts that found expression in Peter’s anguished declaration, when he concluded that Jesus was getting too close, and was probing him too deeply:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

But as I have noted, Jesus did not depart. Jesus stayed. He stayed to absolve Peter and to take away his fear, by the healing power of his words. And he stayed to bestow upon Peter – the Jewish fisherman – the new vocation that would now define the rest of his life:

“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”

And Jesus stays with you, and gets even closer to you, when you initially feel – in your guilt – that you would rather not have him around; and when you initially feel that you would rather not face up to the hard truth that your sins have invited God’s wrath upon you.

In your subconscious mind and in your emotions, you may feel that having Jesus too close is having God’s wrath too close. But then God tells you something that is more important, and more life-changing, than anything else he could ever say to you. He tells you: “Your sins are forgiven.”

The message of God’s law is followed by a message of pardon and peace, for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ who died for you. It is followed by a message of acceptance and justification, for the sake of your Lord Jesus Christ who rose again for you.

And then, in the joy of faith, the words of Psalm 103 become your words:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. …”

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. … He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.”

Jesus told Peter, “Do not be afraid,” because Jesus was not getting up close to Peter in order to condemn him because of his sins, but in order to save him from his sins. And when Jesus speaks to you in his gospel, in his absolution, and in the words of his Sacred Supper, he is also thereby telling you, most fundamentally: “Do not be afraid.”

God is holy. Jesus, the Son of God, is holy. But God in his mercy makes you holy too, and compatible with his holiness, through the washing away of your sin from you, and through the crediting of his Son’s righteousness to you.

In the grace of the salvation that God freely bestows upon us, the words of Psalm 32 become our words:

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

So, from that perspective, it is a good thing to have Jesus close – really close: in the words that enter your ears and mind, in the bread and wine that enter your lips and soul, and in the Spirit of Christ who dwells in your heart.

And Jesus will take over your life – as he took over Peter’s life. You will not be called to the same vocation as Peter was called to. His full-time apostolic office was unique and extraordinary. And not everyone is called to be an ordinary public minister, either.

But Jesus will be in charge of the vocation, and the relationships, in which he does place you, whatever they may be. He will orient your values, shape your thoughts, and guide your steps, as you move forward in a life of loving service to him and to your fellow man.

He will, according to your calling, and according to your faith, step out in front of you, glance back gently and lovingly, and say, “Follow me.” And you will follow.

Like Peter, you too are a sinful man – or a sinful woman. Like Peter, you too will be tempted to draw back from Christ in shame because of your sin.

But you are a sinful man – or a sinful woman – whose sin is atoned for by the shedding of Christ’s blood. And your shame is overcome by God’s acceptance and adoption in Christ.

And so, as Jesus embraces you in forgiveness, you do not push him away in fear. You embrace him in hope. You trust in him and cling to him. You believe in him. You follow him. Amen.